An Uncertain Future for Kyrgyzstan’s Children

Marguba Kamabarova, 32, sits near a burned home in her neighbourhood in Jalalabad in southern Kyrgyzstan. Her own home was burned as well. Photo credit: Laura Sheahen/Catholic Relief Services

By Laura Sheahen

“We went to my aunt’s house when the war began,” says 11-year-old Shaumuhammad. “We didn’t see it when they burned our house. We hid in the basement and I heard the ta-ta-ta of the guns.”

“Then they burned my aunt’s, so we went to my older sister’s house.”

It wasn’t an official war, but it seemed like it to the children. When violence broke out in southern Kyrgyzstan in mid-June, families fled over roofs to safety or huddled in basements. With their Central Asian country—not far from Russia and next to China—in crisis, many women and children from towns went to the border and stayed in any place they could find. “We slept in a horse stable for ten days,” says Shaumuhammad’s neighbour.

Slowly they have returned to their home city of Osh, and now keep out of sight in their neighborhoods, afraid to go into the main parts of town. “The children are traumatised, always crying,” says another neighbour.

Most families have only the clothes they were wearing when they fled. While adults worry about food and shelter, children remember other things that were lost to flames.

“I miss my books—my math book and my fairy tales,” says Shaumuhammad. “The Little Mermaid, Little Red Riding Hood, the Roly-Poly Doughboy…”

Across the street, over pavement charred by a car set on fire, a relative has taken in three small children whose parents are missing. There, eleven people are now staying in two small rooms; some sleep outdoors on a salvaged bedstead.

“We don’t know what will happen with school in the fall,” say the women. Because birth certificates and ID papers were lost, and because tensions may still be simmering in September, children may have trouble going back to school.

A woman in a bazaar area of Osh stands near her burned home, where the fluffy cotton she sells as mattress stuffing was also destroyed. “During the shooting, I was so scared I could look at my dress and see my heart pounding,” she says. She has two sons and is pregnant with a third child.

“The main thing is that my children are alive,” she continues. “Let them burn my house and the things I sell. What I care about is my children’s future.”

Caritas is responding to needs in Osh and Jalalabad.

Laura Sheahen is CRS’ regional information officer for Asia

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Filed under Asia, Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Kyrgyzstan, Peacebuilding

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